Jimmy Spitz, a longtime distribution executive who worked for years at a number of studios and is the father of WME motion picture agent Jason Spitz, Lionsgate domestic distribution president David Spitz and 20th Century Fox VP/in-theater marketing Susie Cotliar, died Monday after a long illness.
Spitz was very well-regarded around town and was known to have mentored a number of executives during his time in the business. Spitz, who held distribution posts at Savoy Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox and RKO, had worked in this industry for many decades and is considered the last of the previous generation of top distribution execs that included such players as Barry Reardon (Warner Bros.) and Fred Mound (Universal).
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Most memorably, Spitz served as president of domestic distribution at Columbia Pictures from 1981-92. During his stint, he oversaw distribution of a number of iconic films including Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie, Ron Underwood’s City Slickers, the original Karate Kid, Ivan Reitman’s original Ghostbusters and John Singleton’s landmark film Boyz N the Hood, which starred then-young kids Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Ice Cube. In addition, he mapped out the distribution plan for two Academy Award winners: director Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) and one of Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpieces, The Last Emperor (1987).
Spitz began his career in sales and domestic distribution. He worked as president of distribution at Savoy Pictures, where he helped bring a number of films to market including Robert De Niro’s directorial debut A Bronx Tale; A Circle of Friends, which launched Minnie Driver; and Shadowlands, which garnered Oscar nominations for star Debra Winger and screenwriter William Nicholson.
The motto he emphasized to those who worked for him: “Plan your work, work your plan.” If film-booking negotiations ever had to get tough, Spitz had no problem wearing the black hat. He always wanted to make his staff look good, and those who worked for Jimmy Spitz wanted Spitz to look good too. Whenever Spitz would pay a visit to Savoy’s New York office during the 1990s, he’d take his staff out to Famous Sammy’s Romanian Steakhouse on Chrystie Street. Among his peers, Spitz was known as a big Milwaukee sports fan including the Badgers, Packers, and Brewers having grown up in Whitefish Bay.
“He was my first boss and a mentor of mine, and he treated everyone who he worked with–those under him and those at a higher level–with the same respect. It didn’t matter how long you had been working in the business. I started off as a box office clerk, and Jimmy always provided a platform for everyone to speak. He’ll be missed,” said Mark Boxer, IFC Films EVP sales and distribution, who cut his teeth at Savoy Pictures.
Adds Annapurna distribution chief Erik Lomis, “I have known Jimmy since the early 80s when I was just a young film buyer and he was the head of distribution at Columbia. It was a pleasure to do business with him and a privilege to call him a friend. From football Sundays to Palm lunches and dinners Jimmy was great to be around and left his mark on all of those lucky enough to be around him. We will all miss you my friend!”
“I’ve known him forever. We did a lot of business together from the early days because he was one of the great distributors of his era,” said distribution exec Larry Gleason. “We built a friendship from there that lasted throughout the years. Our children were the same ages. He stayed active throughout the years and was very loyal to his friends and to his customers. He always had great respect. His standard of excellence was always (former Columbia Pictures chair) Frank Price, and I know he had great respect for him.”
Spitz was also a consultant to RKO and worked on the company’s Distribution Film Series program and also managed distribution for 20th Century Fox for a number of their territories.
Spitz is survived by his three kids and eight grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations to go the Tom Sherak MS Hope Foundation.
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